Frances Mayes, the bestselling author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” brings her line of Tuscan Sun Wines to Charlotte tomorrow on Saturday Nov 22. If you’ve been waiting to go ot the gorcery store this week -tomorrow between 3 and 6 pm might be the best time to visit the Morrocroft Harris Teeter,In partnership with Curious Cork Imports and distributed in North Carolina by Fine Wine Trading Company, each of the Tuscan Sun Wines, now available to the Charlotte wine loving market, was hand-selected by Mayes herself to embody a different concept that touches on the Tuscan lifestyle.
Frances Mayes will meet fans and sign bottles ( and I’lbe you get her to sign copies of any one of her books, too) on Saturday, November 22, 3:00 to 6:00 pm at Harris Teeter Morrocroft at 6701 Morrison Blvd in Charlotte. The Tuscan Sun Wines collection includes three reds and one white. Each wine has an Italian name and an English translation and showcases the unmistakable vision of Frances Mayes that has become an international sensation since the publication of “Under the Tuscan Sun”:
Pensiero (A little gift) is a light and refreshing pour that is 100% Pinot Grigio
Permesso (May I come in?) is bolder, this one 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Tondo Tondo (Just perfect) is a bit richer and is made of 100% Sangiovese grpaes
While the Auguri (My best to you) is a terrific blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot
Anyone of these wines would be a great addition to your Thanksgiing table or use the holiday as an opportunity to try several of these reasonably priced wines.
“These wines bring to life a sense of wonder through the simple joys that my life in Italy has given me,” says Mayes. “I hope that by sharing them with the world, others can also attain a bit of the enjoyment I’ve gained from my experience here, if only for a moment as they sip these glorious wines.”
If you saw the mon=vie “under the Tuscan Sun” then you already know a good part of Frances’ story Since settling in Italy more than 20 years ago, Frances Mayes has gone from being a proud resident of Cortona to one of its most esteemed citizens, as well as Tuscany’s literary favorite, penning titles including “Under the Tuscan Sun;” “Bella Tuscany;” “Every Day in Tuscany;” “Bringing Tuscany Home;” “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook;” “A Year in the World;” “Shrines: Images of Italian Worship;” “Italy: Where to Go When;” “Swan,” her first novel; and “Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir” released April 1, 2014. A prolific writer and poet, the phenomenon that is FrancesMayes now grows with the launch of Tuscan Sun Wines.
What you may not know about Mayes is that she is originally from Georgia, and when not in Italy, she and her husband make their home in Hillsborough, NC!
Frances has deep roots in the Charlotte area. Mayes’ father was born in Mayesworth, near Charlotte, where her great-grandfather, John Henry Mayes, was a major industrialist. His house, now on the National Historic Register, still stands in Charlotte at 435 East Morehead Street and is occupied by the law office of Wyatt & Blake. “It’s surrounded by freeways and tall buildings—the only petunia in the onion patch,” Mayes says of the 1902 historic landmark.
The town of Cramerton, originally Mayesworth, where John Henry Mayes established mills, is still anchored byMayes Manufacturing buildings and was the birthplace of Frances’s father, Garbert Mayes. The original mill, Mayessays, featured “enlightened work environments, with ample space for sports and other humane aspects.” On Mayes‘ great-grandmother’s side, Sarah America Gray, her father, George Gray, started the major mills—largest in the world at that time—Loray in Gastonia.
Frances now divides her time between homes in Italy and North Carolina. For more information, visit www.francesmayesbooks.com.
Visit www.tuscansunwines.com for more information about the wines.
For Information about the John and Idella Mayes House: http://tinyurl.com/mayeshouse
A history of Loray Mills in Gastonia: http://www.textilehistory.org/LorayMills.html
Saturday, November 22
Tuscan Sun Wines bottle signing and wine tasting with Frances Mayes
3-6pm at Harris Teeter Morrocroft, 6701 Morrison Blvd Charlotte, NC 28211
More about Charlotte based Fine Wine Trading Company
Founded in March of 2003, Fine Wine Trading Company is family owned and operated by Danny and Kimberly Sanford. FWTC found itself born from a realization that most distributors were becoming too large and commercialized and losing touch with the finer points of the wine business. FWTC exists as a small, boutique style distributor that places a premium on product knowledge, service, and above all else, great juice. Over the past decade FWTC has built a reputation as one of the premier fine wine distributors in North Carolina. http://www.fwtcwine.com/
When the Colonists first landed in North America they found the Indians growing and using pumpkins. The new Americans were quick to enthusiastically embrace the large round and sometimes ungainly fruit, which is actually a member of the gourd family, and subsequently pumpkin pie became an American tradition.
Today most of us do not hesitate to go out and choose a real pumpkin for our Halloween Jack-o-Lantern, but when it comes to actually cooking this seasonal squash, we tend to forgot that “Eat Local” mantra and all the possibilities of using fresh versus canned. This year, I suggest you shop from local farmers, rather than the canned veggie aisle of your local grocer and make some puree you can freeze and use for months to come.
Okay, I’ll admit it, while it is comforting to have a can or two or organic pumpkin puree on the shelf for back up; it’s easy to put up your own pumpkin puree this season and I am happy to use this post to show you how its done. Fresh pumpkin, like all other varieties of winter squash is abundant in this area and makes for some very fine eating not only in pie, but in custards, ice creams, breads, cookies and muffins as well as savory recipes like soups, salads, pastas, tempura and pureed or baked as a side with grilled or roasted meats and its great for juicing, too.
Whew! Pumpkin is also quite nice served raw, either grated into salads or thin sliced and served with raw veggies and your favorite dip.
These seasonal squash are low in calories, yet abundant in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin is a great source for vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E all are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties. Health benefits aside, legend and folk lore has it that this grandest of gourd’s is also an aphrodisiac…so all of a sudden, pumpkin season could take on a whole new meaning … just sayin’
In this post I’ve included a recipe originally given to me by my friend Linda Singerlie, for one of the best pumpkin cheesecakes I have ever tasted. I tweaked it a bit to make it more local with the inclusion of local Una Alla Volta ricotta, local eggs and homemade brown sugar made from organic sugar and local molasses – instructions all to come.
But, before you cook, you must carve…
If you are looking for some inspiration before you carve, why not join me and 25 plus other Charlotte chefs, all members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild on Sunday October 19 at 4 pm for the Guild’s annual fall fundraiser at 7th Street Market in Uptown Charlotte: a family event appropriately dubbed, CARVED. In attendance, skillfully wielding their knives and sharing their pumpkin carving skills will be the likes of Larry Schreiber from the Moffett Restaurant Group; Marc Jacksina from Earl’s Grocery; Chris Coleman from The Asbury; David Feimster from Fahrenheit; Ben Philpott from Block & Grinder; Gregory Collier from The Yolk; Michael Rayfield from Ballantyne Resort; Miles Payne from Little Spoon Eatery; Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine; and Paul Verica from Heritage – just to name a few! For more info about these chefs and their restaurants – check out the links in the “shopping” portion of this post.
In addition to the two hour pumpkin carving competition all of the shops at the Market will be open for business and the Guild will have a tasty apple cider press demonstration complete with samples presented by Coldwater Creek Farms; and a beekeeping demonstration by Art Duckworth of Apple Orchard Farm.
Lenny Boy Brewery will be on hand with a special sweet potato beer. As a ticket goer, adults will receive a souvenir CARVED 2014 cup good for two (8 oz) pours and one ticket to vote for your favorite pumpkin. The guild will be also be selling more tickets on site if people want to vote more than once.
Advance tickets are still on sale – links to purchase are at the end of this post. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Kids 18 & under: $5 (unless they bring their own already carved jack-o-lantern and then it’s free!) Proceeds go to Piedmont Culinary Guild and Slow Food Charlotte’s Farmer Fund.
From carving to culinaria
Pumpkins grow in a wide variety of sizes, some weighing in at well over 100 pounds. Save the big brusiers for winning awards at county fares and for carving contests. Nothing like a large Jack-o-lantern set out and lit up on the porch designed to welcome treat or treating seasonal guests. Keep in mind that once “Jack” has been carved and spent several nights out of doors, all sorts of ants and other creepy crawly things may take up residence, to say nothing of the melted wax. That’s all fine, if the plan is to keep the carved pumpkin outside, but if you were planning to cook and eat the pulp after the 31st, then best to buy another pumpkin or two or three for all your upcoming culinary endeavors this season.
For eating purposes, look for medium to slightly smaller pumpkins, those with more tender and succulent flesh. Like any other winter squash – butternut, acorn, golden and Hubbard – the skin should be free from blemishes and the pumpkin or squash heavy for its size. Store whole any winter squash, pumpkins et al, at room temperature for as long as a month or keep in a cooler place for as long as three months.
To easily get inside the tough outer shell, place your pumpkin in a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, take it outside and drop it on some hard concrete – this might be one fun and good way for the kids to help with the process.. The pumpkin will split open into several pieces. Remove the pumpkin pieces from the bag, scoop out the stringy pulp that surrounds the seeds and then cut the firmer pulp from the outside pumpkin shell. Boil, steam, bake or fry the chunks of pumpkin as you would potatoes, or oven roast by placing the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, cut side down in a large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or an hour and a half or so, or until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender – about the same consistency as a baked potato. When the squash has cooled slightly, scoop is of the cooked shell.
For pumpkin puree, mash or process the roasted, boiled or steamed chunks in a processor, blender or by hand. Season to be sweet or savory, as you choose and then use as directed in your favorite recipe. Cooked pumpkin pulp will keep in your freezer for six to eight months.
In addition to being used as a base for many sweet and savory recipes, pumpkin or winter squash puree may also be served on it’s own as you would mashed or creamed potatoes. Simply add a little butter to the puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.
From little seeds, big pumpkins grow
The pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, may be rinsed from the stringy pulp, which holds then in place inside the pumpkin and then baked. Because you will remove them before setting your Jack-o-lantern outside, you can bake and eat the seed from pumpkins you carve as well as those you cut up and cook.
First, rinse the seeds well, removing all of the pumpkin pulp. Then, pat the seeds dry between several layers of paper toweling. Spread the dry pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a lightly oiled or buttered baking sheet. Season them generously before baking with your favorite spice or spice combination. Use something as simple as a mix of salt and pepper or go for a zestier blend of garlic salt, chili powder and a dash of cumin. Toast the seeds in a preheated 200 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour, turning them over halfway during the baking time. When the seeds are dry and toasted with a crunchy consistency, remove them for the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy over the course of the next several weeks and months.
Recipe adapted by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto
For the Crust:
2-1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
3 Tbsp. your favorite cinnamon from the Savory Spice Shop
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
For the Filling:
2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 (8oz) container Una Volla Alta locally made ricotta cheese (available at Pasta & Provisions)
1 cup organic sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. your favorite Savory Spice Shop cinnamon
1 Tbsp. fresh minced Windcrest farms local organic baby ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1-1/2 cups of your own fresh made roasted pumpkin puree ( or use an equal amount of organic canned pumpkin)
4 whole local eggs
For the Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar ( i like to make my own by combining about a cup of organic sugar and about 1/4 cup of local Molasses ( I love Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses) – it makes the most delicious brown sugar you will ever eat!)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times to mix well. Press in bottom and up sides of ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 10 minutes and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the first seven ingredients together; add pumpkin and eggs, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared crust; bake 55 minutes on middle rack. Place a shallow cake pan partially full of water on the bottom rack of the oven to provide moist heat in the oven and keep the cheesecake from drying out.
Carefully remove cheesecake and gently sprinkle streusel over the top before returning to oven for another 10 minutes. To help avoid cracking, turn oven off but leave cheesecake in oven with door cracked for a slow cooling process – about 30 minutes or until cheesecake center is set.
Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate cheesecake at least four hours or preferably overnight in the pan then removed sides and gently slide the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto a cake stand. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and enjoy!
Shopping and Contact info for tickets, products and chefs mentioned in this post:
Visit the events page of the Piedmont Culinary Guild website, to purchase advance tickets for the Oct 19 CARVED event online and remember tickets will also be available at the door
For all of the spices mentioned in the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe above, visit my friends Amy and Scott McCabe at the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd at Atherton Mill. 2000 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203 980.225.5419
Uno Alla Volta cheeses are available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and at the regional Yorkmont Road Market on Saturdays and at cheese shops around town. For more info visit and “Like” them at https://www.facebook.com/unoallvoltacheese
Harrell Hill Farms Sorghum Syrup Molasses is available by contacting the farm in Bakersville, NC – contact information is on the farm’s website at http://harrellhillfarms.com/molasses.htm
Lots of great area chefs are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild – for more info or, of you are an interested chef, to become a member yourself, check out the Guild’s website at http://piedmontculinaryguild.com/what-is-the-piedmont-culinary-guild/
For more info on the chefs and restaurants mentioned in this post, just click on the Urbanspoon or website links here:
Miles Payne from Little Spoon http://www.littlespooneatery.com/
I met and got to know Mimosa Grill’s Executive Chef Jon Fortes, last year as he battled his way through the 2013 Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series, Fire In the City to become the Champion here last year.
|The GotToBeNC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination culinary tournament of chefs, highlights the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent. North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport starts in Charlotte on August 18, 2014 when sixteen local chefs will go up one against the other, head to head, battle by battle in Charlotte’s own Fire in the City culinary competition.Each Fire in the City dinner takes place at the beautiful Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Ave in historic SouthEnd. The Bonterra kitchen provides a neutral battle field for these chefs from restaurants all around the city. The chefs come in around 11 or so, and following the lead of Chef Refs Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, take stock of what foodstuffs are available to them to use from the mobile pantry and then sit down for a presentation from Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen, to learn the details on the secret ingredient for the evening. Then they get cooking till its time to plate and serve upwards of 150 guests each evening of the competition – the fun and festivities each evening kick off at 7 pm.
There is nothing else like it any place else, you could say its the Sweet Sixteen of Charlotte’s culinary community. To paraphrase Oprah, what I know for sure is, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IT! To make it even more fun, at each Competition Dining dinner two teams of talented chefs must each prepare their three courses using a secret or featured ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. Award winning NC wines and local NC craft beers are also featured at each dinner. Competition Dining is all about things Grown, Raised, Caught and Made in the great state of North Carolina.
And the best part is, you get the be the judge! At each dinner – or culinary battle – you, the diner, will delight in savoring six courses without knowing which chef prepared each dish. Its a blind tasting of sorts and as you eat, you’ll rate each plate using a specially designed interactive app which you will download on your smart phone. No smartphone, you say? No worries! The tech talented team at HitsTech, Competition Dining’s NC based tech support team, are on site and have smart phones you can borrow for the evening.
At meals end, final scores are revealed and just like you see on Iron Chef or Chopped, one team moves on to the next round and one team goes home.
And for the winner…
At stake for the series winner. along with the all important braggin rites, is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Charlotte’s Own, Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.”
Additionally, the Fire In The City winning team moves on to the Final Fire Battle of Champions.
As the official blogger of Fire in the City series and now the social media maven for Competition Dining across the state ( that’s me behind all of the Competition Dining Tweets and Facebook post) I’ll be there at every battle. covering all the action, tweeting and facebooking along the way and then posting the recap with notes on my favorite dishes and details on the secret ingredients here on these blog pages each morning after.
If you want to follow along during each battle, periodically check the Competition Dining Facebook page through the evening or follow along on Twitter by searching #CompDiningNC. Feel free to post your own ooohs and aaaahs as the food photos and course descriptives are posted and by all means, don’t hesitate to post your own comments on the action or in support of your favorite chefs along the way.
I can tell you from experience, that one or two nights of following along on the social media and you’re going to wish you were there in person. These dinners are like eating dinner at TWO of your favorite Charlotte restaurants at the same time and I can promise, its the most fun you’ll ever have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening! So, Don’t Miss Out on this incredible culinary experience.
Make your reservations now, simply click here and then select each individual battle to link to that specific reservation page.
For more information about where you will find these chefs and their restaurants, outside of Competition Dining, follow the links to restaurant websites at the bottom of this page
I encourage you to go and dine with each of the Got To Be NC Fire In The City chefs at their own individual restaurants, outside of all the Competition Dining fun, as well –
Here they are with links to their websites:
Chef Luca Annunziate – Passion 8 – http://www.passion8bistro.com/
Chef Clark Barlowe – Heirloom Restaurant – http://www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com/
Chef Tom Dyrness – Mama Ricotta’s - http://mamaricottasrestaurant.com/home/
Chef Brian Mottola – e2 Emeril’s Eatery- http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery
Chef David Feimster – Fahrenheit - http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-charlotte/
Chef David Quintana – Southminster- http://www.southminster.org/exquisite-dining/
Chef David Moore – Gallery Restaurant – http://www.gallery-restaurant.com/
Chef Ben Phillpott – Block and Grinder -http://blockandgrinder.com/
Chef Brent Martin – The Summit Room- http://www.thesummitrm.com/
Chef Jon Spencer – Epic Chophouse and Chillfire Bar and Grill- http://www.epicchophouse.com/
Chef Chris Coleman – The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel - http://www.theasbury.com/
Chef Brian Williams – Upstream - http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp
Chef Nicholas Daniels – The Wooden Vine - http://thewoodenvine.com/
Chef Paul Ketterhagen – Carpe Diem - http://www.carpediemrestaurant.com/
Chef Jon Fortes – Mimosa Grill - http://www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp
Chef David “Sully” Sullivan – The Fish Market – http://www.fishmarketbarandgrill.com/
August 1, 2014 – Anyone can cook, Let Heidi Billotto show you how to make it fun! Two terrific On the Farm cooking class offerings and several seasonal At Home with Heidi events coming up and I know you are going to love every one!.
For each of my cooking classes, I team up with my friend, wine guru, Josh Villapando from the Assorted Table Wine Shop to offer wine pairings with every course in each class; and the opportunity to purchase the wines we taste in class directly from Josh – take a bottle home and enjoy it all over again.
My cooking class participants will also receive coupons good toward purchases at the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd on South Blvd. and Pour Olive Artisan Olive Oil Shoppe on East Blvd.
I invite you to register for any one of these hands-on classes simply by emailing me to make your advance reservation.
Remember, never any hard and fast rules at my classes – if you would rather just watch, sit back ,eat and drink and enjoy instead of trying your hand, that’s fine too – just come and have fun!
Looking forward to cooking up a storm with you real soon!
On the Farm at New Town Farms | Saturday August 2 | 11 am – 3:30 pm | Farm Tour and Cooking Class
Come and meet farmers Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg of New Town Farms in Waxhaw, NC. Join us as we visit with the heritage breed chickens and pigs, collect eggs and see the seasonal produce in and out of greenhouses. You’ll hear all about Sammy’s farming philosophy and, we’ll cook with all the farm has in season. I guarantee, it’ll change the way you think about the food you buy and the way you eat. The day includes a cooking class, wine parings, generous samples, recipe packets and a fabulous farm tour.
Cost $75 per person Email Heidi to make your reservation
COOKING WITH SUMMER HERBS | At Home with Heidi | Saturday August 9 | 11am – 2 pm
This class offers a host of fun new ideas for using you herb garden harvest to season and spice. Four courses, wine pairings, growing and preserving tips too.
Cost is $65 Email Heidi to make your reservations.
On The Farm at Windcrest Organic Farms & Greenhouses | Its Tomato Time! | Sun August 10 | 1-4 pm
We’ll use them to make ketchup, salsa and a host of sauces as well as my famous summertime tomato pie and the best fried green tomato and goat cheese stack you’ve ever had. Wine pairings as always, plus a tour and Mary Roberts take on growing organic – don’t miss it!
Cost is $75 per person Email Heidi to make your reservations
Its For The Birds | Cooking with Chicken, Duck & Quail | At Home with Heidi| Sat Aug 16 | 11am – 2 pm
We’ll pan sear, roast, braise and cook on the grill – you’re gonna love it!
Cost $65 per person Email Heidi to make your reservation
Gluten Free Gourmet |At Home with Heidi | Saturday July 26 | 11 am – 2 pm
Cost is $65 per person Email Heidi to make your advance reservations
Dining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.
Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.
Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road, with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot
Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.
Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!
We’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and large pots of herbs define the heritage. In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto!
Not far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all. Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete. While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven. While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share.
Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building, take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie. Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey.
The Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.
Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result, many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas – its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner!
Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot! This free standing building with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond, pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159 … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts – no chemicals or preservatives. As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment. During the heat of the day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next.
To watch the restaurant segment that inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.